- Creativity is a key driver of profitability in B2B marketing and plays a crucial role in building brand recognition, differentiation, and market share
- B2B advertising is facing a crisis of creativity, with research showing that 75% of B2B ads receive a low effectiveness rating
- B2B brand building has a massive untapped opportunity, with significant growth potential in the marketing services industry
As part of a multi-year partnership between LinkedIn and Cannes Lions, LinkedIn along with its think tank, the B2B Institute, worked with the Cannes Lions as a strategic thought partner to develop the Creative B2B Lions Awards, with input from experts both inside and outside LinkedIn. This interview with Tyrona Heath, Director of Marketing Engagement at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute, is aimed at celebrating and championing B2B excellence to drive creativity and excitement amongst B2B brands, marketers, and advertisers.
Q 1. When you talk about creativity in B2B, it can feel abstract. Can you explain it in a tangible and relatable way?
Ty Heath: For a long time, people have associated B2B with purely business-related content, detached from the principles that influence decision-making. However, B2B content is consumed by human decision-makers who are influenced by the same factors as any other audience. Emotion, storytelling, music, characters, and persuasive techniques are all necessary in B2B to inspire decision-making. Ultimately, it’s about creating a memorable brand that stands out and drives effective outcomes, with creativity at the center.
Q2. Is B2B advertising facing a crisis of creativity? And if so, how did we get here?
Ty Heath: In the case of B2B advertising, there is a significant opportunity for improvement. Research indicates that the majority of B2B ads lack memorability and effectiveness. According to an analysis with our creative effectiveness partner, System1, a staggering 75% of B2B ads received a low effectiveness rating of one star out of five. These ads failed to leave a lasting impression, effectively communicate the message, or evoke an emotional response. This means they were not effective in building brand awareness or generating a return on investment. It’s clear that there is a need for B2B marketing leaders to step up and change this narrative.
Kamaljeet Kalsi: That’s interesting. It reminds me of the LinkedIn ads I’ve seen, where they show professionals working from home with their children. It humanizes B2B executives and shows that they face similar challenges in a work-from-home environment. I can see the connection.
Q3. How significant is the commercial case for creative advertising in B2B?
Ty Heath: Before we delve into that, I’d like to touch upon why we find ourselves in this situation. This is the challenge we currently face. How do you sell the need for brand building and creativity to budget holders? For a long time, marketing budgets have been focused on short-term tactics that deliver immediate but measurable results, often neglecting the long-term impact on the brand. This common mistake leads to underinvestment in brand building, which is harder to measure and understand. Neglecting brand building becomes more evident during economic downturns, as the brand weakens over time. Eventually, it requires substantial investments of time and money to rebuild a weakened brand.
We need to rebalance our efforts and realize the significant impact that brand building has on overall marketing. Powerful creative can be 10 to 20 times more sales effective than mediocre creative. Creativity plays a crucial role in supporting brand-building initiatives by strengthening the brand and setting it apart from competitors.
Kamaljeet Kalsi: It is interesting because our previous conversation revolved around the pendulum swing between brand and performance. Now, it seems to be right in the middle due to the economic situation and the need to maintain a brand. From our editorial research, it appears that many senior executives do not prioritize brand building. It’s a challenging aspect of marketing to sell because it may not receive serious consideration compared to other business priorities. While CMOs may say that brand is important, they often prioritize data management. Data plays a crucial role in creating memorable moments.
Q4. How do you sell the need for brand building and creativity to senior marketers or budget holders?
Ty Heath: That’s a great question, and it relates to our previous discussion about marketing to the CFO. Ogilvy Rory Sutherland once compared discussing brand with a finance director to talking about the healing power of crystals to a head surgeon. To finance-focused individuals, brand discussions may come across as fluffy and irrelevant. The best ads are effective because they better encode an association in a buyer’s memory, and brand building is one of the most powerful levers for driving business growth by building memories. We need to shift our mindset to effectively communicate the connection and value of brand building and creativity.
Q5. How would you make the case for creativity to the CFO?
Ty Heath: One approach that has worked well for our customers is the 95-5 rule which shows that 95% of your potential buyers aren’t ready to buy today. These 95% are “out-market” today, but will be “in-market” sometime in the future. “In-market/out-market” is not only far more customer-centric – nobody says “I’m at the bottom of the funnel” – but it is also far more finance-centric. This framing maps directly to how your CFO thinks about sales: in terms of current and future cash flows.
It may seem outlandish to make the case to invest heavily in brand advertising that reaches people who are very unlikely to buy in the short term. But by flipping the funnel on its side, it becomes clear why it makes sense to reach the 95% of the category that won’t buy today: because those “out-market” buyers represent the future cash flows that underpin the stock price for every public company. It opens the door to having a conversation about the power of creativity to drive future cash flow while considering other financial factors. We need to demonstrate how this balanced approach leads to both short-term results and sets the foundation for future sales.
Additionally, we should not forget the power that brand has in deterring competitors, establishing a unique market position, pricing power, talent attraction, category optionality, and mitigating risk. Marketing plays a significant role beyond sales activation, contributing to long-term business growth. And it’s crucial to articulate these points to all stakeholders, not just the CFO.
Q6. How big is the commercial case for creative advertising in B2B?
Ty Heath: Spoiler alert, the opportunity for advertising in B2B is substantial. However, the industry has not fully realized the potential of long-term brand advertising in B2B. B2B brand building represents the largest untapped opportunity in the marketing services industry. Annual B2B sales exceed $9 trillion. This means there is massive value creation yet to be realized. Marketers who leverage creative advertising can unlock this value and drive growth in the B2B space. It’s an exciting time to be a B2B marketer, with immense growth potential and room for innovation.
Q7. What is the anatomy of effective B2B creative? Can you share examples?
Ty Heath: Effective B2B creative involves key elements like a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. It engages the audience and creates an emotional connection. Having a relatable character is also important for connecting with the brand. Sound is often overlooked, but it can reinforce brand recognition and evoke emotions. It’s crucial to ensure that the ad is attributed to your brand, using distinctive colors, logos, and assets. By incorporating these elements effectively, you increase the chances of a memorable and impactful ad.
Kamaljeet Kalsi: That’s interesting because we collaborate with audio brands too. I once interviewed Uli Reese, Global CMO at amp, and we talked about the sound associated with the then-new James Bond movie and how they associate a voice like Billie Eilish with that brand identity.
Ty Heath: Yes, there’s definitely a recognizable sound associated with Bond movies. It sets the tone and creates anticipation.
Q8. Is there a model or structure based on consumer psychology or marketing science that works well for B2B creativity?
Ty Heath: Our research with our partner Binet and Field delves into this area. We looked at a series of ads that are emotional in nature and a series of ads that are purely rational in nature. What we found is that emotional ads are seven times more effective at driving very large business effects, which is a measure that captures key profitability metrics like sales gain, market share gain, reduced price sensitivity, customer retention gain, customer acquisition gain, and profit gain. The challenge is our attitude toward modern business, which fuels the misconception that a B2B purchase is a far more rational process than it really is. Where B2C organizations are usually marketing-driven, B2B organizations tend to be more product or sales driven. This difference means that people tend to communicate more rationally. B2B marketers think their customers are obsessed with specifications, pricing, and making objective decisions. The result? Low-quality creative that no one remembers.
Forward-thinking B2B marketers are recognizing that emotions are at play. In many cases, the stakes are very high, which only adds to the emotion. Much more is at stake in a B2B decision. It is much more expensive for the buyer to make a mistake, which means these are more emotional choices. This is why B2B creativity matters. Emotional ads cut through and resonate with both current and future buyers.
Kamaljeet Kalsi: Interesting, because that goes into the whole measuring and metrics. And these are not the usual, click-through rates, or other vanity metrics. These are metrics related to human brain activity, emotions, heart rate, and those kinds of aspects that aren’t popular when it comes to measurement. This is a lot of complex science and data fetching over there.
Q9. Can you give our readers a peak insight into the LinkedIn and WARC research?
Ty Heath: The peak insight from our research with WARC, which is the sister company to LIONS is that – the most important thing that will drive your performance is the creative itself. Creativity is a key driver of profitability. Media is important too, but creativity is a fundamental element. If you care about profit, then you’re going to care about creativity.
Q10. For those who want to see the science and facts, how do you measure the impact of creativity?
Ty Heath: As I mentioned earlier, creativity and media are the drivers. If we have a formula:
Creative x Media = Outcomes
Creativity plays a significant role in building and expanding your brand size. It leads to increased brand recognition, differentiation, customer loyalty, and ultimately having a larger market presence. And investing in creativity has a positive impact on financial performance because it serves as a multiplier.
So, what should you measure?
If you know that creativity helps to shift market share, whether you’re a big brand with significant market share or a small brand trying to cut in, you should measure attention and engagement. Are you attracting attention? Ads that receive high attention and are well received by audiences are more likely to be memorable and effective in conveying the message.
You should also consider how distinctive your ads are. For small brands, creativity becomes even more crucial because they tend to lack distinctive assets. Measuring factors like logo recognizability, brand association with colors and images, and category entry points (CEP) is important. Effective creative should establish strong associations between your brand and the specific context that triggers the purchase decision, enabling you to be top of mind. Measuring brand associations and working on building them over time is crucial for assessing the impact of creativity and ensuring its effectiveness.
One major challenge that marketing faces is the disconnect between the actions of marketing initiatives to outcomes and attribution. Being able to measure creativity and map the association can help determine effectiveness towards the end conversion. Stay tuned for the next interview to uncover these insights.
Ty Heath is the Director of Marketing Engagement at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute. She is a leading B2B marketer, speaker, author, athlete, and community builder who explores these topics at the intersection of behavioral science, diversity, equity, inclusion, and transformation. She is also a Co-Founder of TransformHer, the premier conference for professional women of color and allies in technology. With research, Ty engages and educates the industry in partnership with the leading marketing effectiveness thinkers and organizations such as Cannes Lions, ANA, and IPA to help better define the category, and drive growth. She can be found on Twitter @tyrona.
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